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From Stephen King classics to true crime tales, thrills and chills abound in this list of some of the most frightful reads of all time.
The horror genre is not for everyone. Assuredly, plenty of people don’t understand why some actually seek out the feeling of being afraid. And that’s perfectly fair, but this list is not for those people. This is for the people who can’t get enough of the creepy crawlies and heebie jeebies—the ones who want to know more about things that go bump in the night.
If you’re looking for a thrill and you’re pressed for time, there’s no shortage of horror movies that will do the trick. There’s nothing like a good jump scare, for sure, and contemporary scary movies will certainly leave you with nightmares. But, there’s something to be said about a scary book. As books do, it requires more of an investment from you, the reader. With that comes more of a build-up, more tension and therefore, more of a payoff. The word “page turner” is thrown around a lot when discussing books, but when it comes to horror books, no word could be more suitable. With Halloween right around the corner, there’s no time like the present to dig into a terrifying tale.
No matter what flavor of fright you seek—from mysteries to books with a twist, and from demons to the real life stories behind some of America’s most wretched killers—there’s a scare for every type of horror fan. If we may lean on the beloved Goosebumps tagline, “Reader beware, you’re in for a scare.” In no particular order, here are 27 of the best horror books of all time.
If you’re one of the many who binged Netflix’s series based on this Shirley Jackson novel, you already know how compelling the storyline and characters are. If you haven’t seen it, just know that the 1959 tome is widely regarded as one of the best haunted house stories ever written.
Obviously, this list could not exist without several mentions of Mr. Horror himself, Stephen King. The first of a few King books you’ll find on this list, It is one of his most well-known books, and killer clown Pennywise is arguably the most famous monster to spring from King’s mind.
Not sure if you can handle a deep dive into a spooky read? Ray Bradbury’s The October Country is a collection of short stories, and is said to be some of this best and most frightening work.
Does anyone truly get away with murder? That’s the question treasured writer Peter Straub explores in this bestselling tale of four men whose pasts are coming back to bite.
Before audiences couldn’t look away from Regan on the movie screen, readers couldn’t put down the book. Although demonic possession storylines are a dime a dozen nowadays, Blatty’s 1971 classic is required reading for anyone who fancies themselves a fan of the genre.
It begins as so many scary movies do: a family moves into a house that ends up being no ordinary house. But in this highly regarded tale, the first thing the family notices is that the house is larger on the inside than it appears on the outside. How could that be? And what else is this house capable of? House of Leaves developed a cult following, and after reading it, you’ll understand why.
As they say, the scariest monsters are those that live among us, and Ted Bundy might be the best example of that. This telling of his story, which has been haunting the bedside tables of true crime readers since its 1980 release, is unique in that author Ann Rule knew Bundy personally as one of co-workers.
You might not know this, but the film version of The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, actually strays quite far from King’s source material. Although the movie is undeniably a classic of its own accord, the original story is one of King’s most legendary for a reason.
When you think of horror, what do you picture? Some place dark and creepy, right? Probably not a sun-drenched beach town in the summer, which is just one of the things setting The Elementals in a league of its own. McDowell, who wrote the screenplays for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas (convinced yet?) has been handsomely praised for penning this novel, considered by many to be one of the genre’s best.
Forget Twilight. Forget The Vampire Diaries. The predecessor to those, and the entire vampire craze, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, first published in 1897. Even if Edward Cullen wasn’t your cup of tea, Stoker’s story might just surprise you with its creepiness.
Considering you’re reading this list, it’s probably safe to assume you’re familiar with the story of Rosemary’s Baby, which experts credit as one of the tomes that spurred the horror genre’s heyday. The Roman Polanski film starring Mia Farrow launched this deal-with-the-devil tale into mega fame, but we’d recommend checking out the origin text by Ira Levin.
The name alone is enough to send a chill down your spine, don’t you think? Like camps, carnivals are also a popular scene for horrific tales, like this one from iconic writer Ray Bradbury. In the suspenseful Something Wicked This Way Comes, one small town is woefully unaware of the sinister forces behind Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, which comes to town just before Halloween (how timely).
Those who are fascinated by dark and macabre histories will devour this nonfiction book, in which Colin Dickey takes readers on a tour of some of America’s most shadowy and storied locales.
A house with truly transportive powers, a serial killer on a mission, and a girl who wasn’t expected to make it out alive are the three ingredients comprising this compelling page-turner from Lauren Beukes.
There’s no bond like the bond between brothers—or in this case, identical twin brothers. As is expected, Holland and Niles Perry become increasingly different from one another as they grow up. But as mischievous Holland’s pranks become more and more devilish, Niles is left to wonder if he knows his twin brother at all.
You might remember when Joseph DeAngelo was arrested in 2018 for a slew of assaults, rapes, and murders committed throughout California throughout the ’70s and ’80s. But for decades, this violent perpetrator remained unidentified, known only as the Golden State Killer. Writer Michelle McNamara committed herself to uncovering who was behind this reign of terror, and this book tracks her findings. McNamara tragically died before DeAngelo was identified and apprehended, but her efforts are widely regarded as being crucial to the case.
What starts as a whimsical romance novel about a beautiful young woman swept off her feet by a charming, handsome widow promptly takes a dark turn when she returns to his estate and finds that there might be more to him than meets the eye.
For a humorous book that still gives readers a heavy dose of horror, pick up John Dies At The End, which follows two young men who are tasked with saving their hometown from evil forces and the grips of a mysterious drug. It spawned a movie in 2012 (with Paul Giamatti!), but the original text is truly an experience of its own.
This non-fiction work of true crime writing might first appear as a story about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, but readers will soon discover that it’s actually the terrifying tale of prolific serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes and his deadly murder mansion.
Part hardcore haunted house, part escape room from hell, the Quigley House promises a sizable cash prize to any brave souls who can make it out unscathed. But the staged antics come screeching to a halt when an actual murder occurs, killing one of the contestants. Just one warning: don’t read this before heading to your Halloween festivities, especially if your plans include a haunted house attraction.
This book is not for those looking for something on the fun side of frightful. Nay, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race is a truly dark read in which author Thomas Ligotti gives a brutally honest—albeit ultra pessimistic—look at the realities of humanity, which often yield the scariest truths of all.
Don’t let the YA classification fool you—this collection of scary stories is poised to make even a lionhearted adult jump. An anthology that can only be described as unsettling, Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is a great read that also offers a look into some of the genre’s most promising up-and-coming writers.
Whether you’re a true crime junkie, a history lover, or just a die-hard New Yorker, dive into this compilation of some of the most riveting cases that have passed through the NYPD precincts. it’s packed with investigation notes, analyses, and more than 250 photos.
When 14-year-old Marjorie Barrett starts acting strange, no one can figure out why. Is it just normal teenage girl antics? Scarier, could it be early signs of schizophrenia? Or could it be something demonic? The story only gets more grim when Marjorie’s father brings a reality TV crew into the mix to film his daughter’s plight.
Everyone knows ’80s horror movies are some of the genre’s finest. Set in the 1980s, My Best Friend’s Exorcism manages to capture the same feeling those films give while maintaining a truly harrowing nature.
Camps have long been the subject of many spooky ghost and serial killer stories. This is true of The Troop, which tells the story of a Boy Scout leader who takes his troop to camping in the Canadian wilderness. Before you assume the campground theme makes it contrived, know that Stephen King recommends the book and even said it “scared the hell out of him.”
Israel Keyes was known as a trusted construction worker and devoted father living in Alaska. That is, until he became known for the other life he was secretly leading—the one in which Keyes would stash “kill kits” all over the country, traveling to access them and commit murders before returning home to life in Alaska. For more than a decade, Keyes got away with his horriyfing double life. American Predator tracks his story, containing information garnered from FBI case files and countless interviews with with law officials and those who knew Keyes.